Dear Chris Rock,
It’s been a couple of days since Oscars night now, which means you’ve had a chance to recover, and also to reflect on your performance as host—the highlights, the misfires, the moment you realized you are probably never going to get another Christmas card from the Pinkett-Smith family…
Awards season junkies that we are, we too have spent some time looking back on the big night: the gossip, the glamour, and—oh right—that moment in your opening monologue where you took a quick break from calling out Hollywood on its shameful lack of racial diversity, to crap all over a different diversity-related cause.
Don’t play dumb with us. You, Christopher Julius Rock III, are many things (impervious to the effects of aging, lacking in singing abilities), but dumb ain’t one of them. On Oscar night, and long before that, your ability to bring intelligence and humanity to the public dialogue on America’s race problem has been impressive and maybe even unparalleled. Which is why your failure to grasp the #AskHerMore campaign has us particularly perplexed.
On the off chance your own words have already escaped you, here’s a quick refresher:
“Another big thing tonight is, you’re not allowed to ask women what they’re wearing anymore. It’s a whole thing, ‘Ask her more.’ You have to ‘ask her more.’ It’s like, you ask the men more. Everything is not sexism, everything is not racism. They ask the men more because the men are wearing the same outfits. Every guy is wearing the exact same thing. If George Clooney showed up with a lime green tux and a swan coming out of his ass, someone would go, “Hey, what you wearing George?”
Cue the uproarious laughter in the Kodak Theatre, because 1) Everyone loves a George Clooney joke, 2) Animals that emerge from celebrity rectums are one of Hollywood’s pet punch lines (just ask Richard Gere), and 3) The topic in question—fashion choices at a movie party—feels like the sort of thing one should be able to laugh about.
It’s true, #AskHerMore isn’t about, say, campus rape, or reproductive rights, just as (to your point), #OscarsSoWhite isn’t about lynching. But while you had no problem connecting the latter to serious, systemic inequality issues, you act like defining women by their wardrobes might not have similarly substantial implications.
It is these implications (and not pretty dresses) that The Representation Project aspires to dismantle with #AskHerMore, as explained here in their reaction to your joke. You would know this if you had taken even five minutes to research the movement before completely misrepresenting its core message in front of 900 million human viewers (and at least one bear).
Their point is that when we relate to women exclusively based on appearance, we are contributing to a culture of objectification and secondary status. The struggle is real, Chris Rock: in 2014 and 2015, only one-third of speaking roles in movies went to women. Never mind the whole gender-pay gap thing wherein we Scullys get offered less money than you Mulders, even when the work is the same.
Their point is not to eliminate “Who are you wearing?” and other forms of fashion chatter on the red carpet, but instead to suggest a more rounded, reasonable approach. So going back to your point about Clooney and the swan dress—certainly, ignoring Cate Blanchett’s mint-green Armani, or Gaga’s origami-esque white jumpsuit would be absurd. But no more absurd assuming that by virtue of their fashion choices, these women have nothing further to contribute.
“People forget the fact that women are [at the Academy Awards] because they’ve given extraordinary performances.” That’s Blanchett in a 2015 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, discussing her frustration with the increasingly gender-divided red carpet. “Since I’ve been strutting the red carpet, things have changed a lot,” she noted, joking that, “next it will be, “What brand tampon are you wearing?”
Perhaps you think she’s being a tad dramatic, but flash back to the scene on the red carpet even a year ago, and a “Tampon Cam” doesn’t feel so far fetched. What with the “Stiletto Cam,” the “Clutch Cam,” the “Mani Cam,” the “360GlamCam.” Never mind the growing regularity with which actresses were being asked about what they ate that day, what kind of underwear they were wearing, what beauty products they were carrying in their clutch. (Full props to Sarah Silverman for the time she revealed a liquid pot vape pen!). This awards season has seen a scaling back on all of that insanity. And we have #AskHerMore to thank.
Still, you are far from the only person who can’t quite wrap their head around the new (and improved!) normal. Melissa Rivers gave a pre-Oscar interview this year, where she trashed #AskHerMore. Her big argument was that she has, “no interest in asking actresses about their feelings on world hunger.” (As if the only two options would be to question Olivia Wilde about her choker or her plan to solve the global food crisis.) Meanwhile, Robin Roberts provided one of 2016’s more awkward red carpet moments when she told Cate Blanchett that she was going to have to “break protocol” and talk to her about her dress…
Is this really so hard to understand????
Not for Canada’s own Ben Mulroney, the eTalk host and Oscar carpet vet who Tweeted:
“It’s #AskHerMore not #DontAskHerAboutTheDressSheIsWearingAsPartOfAMassiveClothingDeal. PS – I always ask more.”
Ben’s not wrong in pointing out that a lot of female celebrities (and male celebrities, for that matter) have arrangements with the labels they wear. They may even be contractually obliged to name drop this designer or that jeweler, which has—that’s right—absolutely nothing to do with their ability to answer other types of questions as well. Especially in the cases where there really isn’t that much to say in the fashion department.
Your comments, Chris, suggest that every woman on the red carpet is having a wardrobe moment worth dwelling on, but a quick scan of the 2016 Oscar looks chosen by Tina Fey, Reese Witherspoon, Kate Winslet, Patricia Arquette, Emily Blunt, Whoopi Goldberg and Sarah Silverman suggest otherwise. If there was a dress version of the default male suit, these women are kind of wearing it. So can you understand why Tina and Reese (two of the most successful and influential individuals in the industry) might feel a bit peeved to see their night reduced to a “Who Wore It Better?”
What’s funny is that nobody seems to be confounded by how to handle Jared Leto on the red carpet. His outfits are as grabby and conversation worthy as they come, and yet nobody needs a reminder to #AskHimMore, because there is zero inclination to reduce Leto to the carnation at his neck. In fact, on a man, inspired fashion choices suggest that he is a creative and multi-faceted individual. Isn’t it great to see confident guy who isn’t afraid to break the rules! goes the typical narrative around Leto’s frequently flashy fashion statements.
And then on the flip side, there’s Jenny Beavan, the costume designer who won the Oscar for her work on Mad Max: Fury Road on Sunday, and accepted her industry’s highest honour wearing black pants and a biker jacket. Do you notice how people are confused, put off, can’t figure out what to make of her? That’s because when a woman fails to meet expectations around appearance, she may as well be walking around with a swan coming out of her ass. And that just hurts.